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Review: Creed – “Emotional and inspirational”

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Based on the characters created by Sylvester Stallone, Creed is written and directed by Ryan Coogler – whose previous film, Fruitvale Station, was critically praised and whose next gig is Marvel movie Black Panther. Coogler brings his Fruitvale star, Michael B. Jordan, along to star in Creed; while this half sequel, half spinoff (sequoff?) (spinquel??) also stars Stallone returning to one of his most iconic roles as Rocky Balboa.

Adonis Johnson (Jordan) is the son of Apollo Creed – Rocky’s opponent in the first two films, and friend in the next two, who was killed in the ring by Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Apollo’s son outside of marriage, Adonis has big time daddy issues that lead to big time anger management problems. As a child he bounces in and out of foster homes and juvenile hall, always looking for a fight, until Mrs. Creed turns up one day to take him home and raise him right.

Unable to hold down a regular job, and just wanting to be a boxer, Adonis jacks it all in, upsets his mom and moves to Philadelphia to train. Although he wants to make his way on his own merits, not on his father’s name, Adonis can’t help the pull of emulating his father and turns to an old family friend for training: Rocky Balboa (Stallone).

Quick fun fact for fun fact fans: Stallone is older now than Burgess Meredith was when he played Rocky’s trainer, Mick, in the first film. And Sly and Coogler don’t try and hide it. This next phase of the Rockyfranchise sees Balboa DEFINITELY out to pasture now – this is not about another comeback, but Adonis’s rise. By the way, I know I’ve said “Adonis” a lot, and the film realises it sounds silly and makes it hard to take the character seriously too, wisely using “Donnie” instead.

Stallone fully embraces his age and ill health here and puts in an incredibly powerful performance that cashes in on all the love we’ve built up for the character over the years while giving him a new direction, purpose and family. Jordan as his protégée excels too, putting in a frankly exhausting looking shift, powering though many intense training montages, heart flogging emotional scenes, and face pounding bouts in the ring.

These fights are filmed with vigour and swagger by Coogler, with a one-shot scrap shown from inside the ring putting you right in the action and right in the way of all the fists. Elsewhere, Coogler’s camera seeks out and hones in on small details: a splash of blood, the drip off the sponge, the sweat on the canvas, he’s really made each match up powerful, unique and visually interesting.

The soundtrack is also made vitally important. That one-shot fight is always from a POV facing the action with the meat thuds of glove to visage coming from the front of the theatre, and the shouts and advice from Creed’s corner coming from behind us. The music in a Rocky movie is always iconic too, be it Bill Conti’slegendary Rocky theme, or the power pop: Survivor’s “Burning Heart” and “Eye of the Tiger”, John Cafferty’s “Hearts on Fire”, or James Brown’s “Living in America”. Here, Ludwig Göransson (The Town That Dreaded Sundown) handles the score well, if thanklessly. It’s the snippets of Conti that fire the blood up – with the odd recognisable chord going straight to your spine – and music from Future, The Roots, Nas and 2Pac adding grit and determination.

It can sometimes feel broad (the scouse villains), and too on the nose, but some of the best, most memorable, and most loved elements of the Rocky’s are the panto villains (Mr. T as “Clubber” Lang, Lundgren’s Ivan Drago) and the cheesy but still motivational training montages. Creed updates the Rockymovie, but crucially is not embarrassed to still feel like a classic Rocky movie. Better than Balboa, Creed is emotional and inspirational. Landing heavy blows to the head, body and heart throughout, this feels like the start of something special.

5-out-of-5

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